The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors has reached a preliminary agreement with CommonSpirit Health – the parent company of Dignity Health – to begin the negotiations to enter into a long-term affiliation with Dignity Health over the management and operation of the San Joaquin General Hospital in French Camp. 

The move, which would be finalized in the next 6 to 9 months, would hand over elements of control of the hospital – which has been under the control of San Joaquin County since its founding in 1857 – to the nonprofit health system. 

“San Joaquin County is pleased to announce this partnership with Dignity Health that will allow San Joaquin General Hospital to remain viable as a provider of cost-effective quality health care,” San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors Chairman Tom Patti said in a statement announcing the move. “Due to the pandemic and a variety of other fiscal considerations, SJGH will require access to clinical, operational, educational, and financial assistance that could only be provided by entering into an agreement with an established, successful health care system. 

“We believe this affiliation will be significantly beneficial to all parties, but especially to patients and staff at SJGH by providing a more financially-secure hospital setting which offers more sustainable care over the long term.”

The Board of Supervisors authorized county staff to enter into a non-binding Letter of Intent with the company, and the LOI was signed at the end of May – signifying the intent of the county and the nonprofit health system to enter into a long-term partnership. 

As a part of those negotiations, both entities will investigate whether keeping the “designated public hospital” designation is in the long-term best interests of the patients and the parties with a stake in the operation of the facility. 

San Joaquin General Hospital is the only “designated public hospital” in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, and only one of two still operating in the San Joaquin Valley as a whole – the other being Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield. 

While the letter of intent doesn’t specifically spell out what will happen to the rank-and-file employees at the facility, the letter does spell out that CommonSpirt Health may take over hospital management and the executive leadership of the French Camp facility – including using CSH employees in the role of the chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief nursing officer, chief operating officer, and chief medical officer.   

The San Joaquin General Hospital is San Joaquin County’s lone designated trauma center, and approximately 65 percent of those who use the services provided by the facility and its affiliated clinics receive assistance from either Medicare or Medi-Cal. 

“This agreement between San Joaquin General Hospital and Dignity Health represents the alignment of two exceptional organizations with mutual missions of serving vulnerable populations while maintaining and enhancing access to care and improving the health of the communities we serve,” Donald Wiley, the President and CEO of Dignity Health’s St. Joseph’s Medical Center, said in a statement. “We look forward to working together and forming lasting relationships with the San Joaquin County community to make a difference in peoples’ lives.”